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Airmen battle heat, insurgents at North Star

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  Airman 1st Class Johnnie James of the 30th Security Forces Squadron hydrates while taking a knee during a foot patrol as part of the North Star exercise here June 18. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airman 1st Class Johnnie James of the 30th Security Forces Squadron hydrates while taking a knee during a foot patrol as part of the North Star exercise here June 18. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Christopher Hubenthal)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A straight line of four Airmen moved swiftly through the 100 degree heat and the unforgiving terrain surrounding the North Star exercise deployment area.

"Watch out up ahead, there is plenty of poison oak to go around," said Senior Airman Steven Crosseley, a 30th Security Forces Squadron member.

The poison oak Airman Crosseley referred to entrenched both sides of a narrow walkway up a steep hill; a route that security forces Airmen were taking to do a foot patrol for the North Star deployment exercise.

The exercise, which was held June 18-20, saw nearly 100 Vandenberg Airmen mock a deployment to a simulated Balad Air Base, Iraq, in preparation for the operational readiness inspection.

North Star is used to test each Airman's knowledge on self-aid and buddy care, force protection levels, terrorist attacks and many other situations that may arise in a deployed location as covered in the Airman's Manual.

While Airmen are participating in the exercise they were evaluated by an exercise evaluation team. The team was there to make notes of individual performance of Airmen as well as help them make the right decision in a combat environment.

"Use this time to sharpen your abilities and learn," said Lt. Col. Michael Roth, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron operations flight commander. "If you have questions raise your hand, although we may get dinged by EET, it is still better to learn."

As temperatures began to rise, North Star participants started to heat up ... literally.

Several Airmen were treated for heat related illness during the exercise, said Tech. Sgt. James Haleski, the NCO in-charge of the 30th Space Wing Inspector General office. In some ways it is a wakeup call to the heat that will be experienced in a deployed environment.

"Our main objective right now is to prepare people for the ORI," said Roger Peterson, EET chief. "We still have some work to do before September, and it is very important that our Airmen stay motivated."

This inspection is a direct reflection on how each unit works together, and can get to a very personal level. Inspectors are likely to check each function performed on a daily basis. This inspection does not just say a lot about Vandenberg, but the Airmen at Vandenberg, said Maj. Jennifer Holthaus, the 30th SW IG chief of inspections and exercises.

Although the weather might have had some Airmen wanting to be home, they are all part of a big-picture mission. The 30th Space Wing deploys more Airmen than any other base in Air Force Space Command, and having troops prepared for any variable that is thrown at them in those places is invaluable.

One variable may be heat. Temperature in Iraq last week: 113 degrees.